Free counseling sessions may be helping to lower suicide rate in Northwest Colorado
An uptick of people in Routt and Moffat counties taking advantage of free and confidential counseling sessions — funded through Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide — may be helping to lower the number of deaths by suicide in the Yampa Valley this year.
According to Anna Allsbery, REPS marketing and communications coordinator, one person in Moffat County has died by suicide so far in 2023, with none in Routt County. By this time last year, the Yampa Valley already had lost six people to suicide. In 2022, 13 people died from suicide in Routt and Moffat counties (six from Routt, seven from Moffat), according to REPS.
In 2021, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 12 suicides in the Yampa Valley, including eight people in Routt and four in Moffat.
Overall, 1,370 people in Colorado died by suicide in 2021. For context, the three counties in Colorado that have the closest population size to Routt County showed suicide numbers in 2021 of six in Elbert, eight in Montezuma and 14 in Teller.
El Paso County in Colorado topped the suicide list in 2021 with 186 deaths, and multiple smaller population counties such as Jackson County reported no or less than three suicides. Less than three annual suicides in a county are not disclosed for privacy reasons, according to the CDPHE.
REPS continues with efforts to raise funds for free counseling sessions that are available through a variety of local counselors. Thanks to two local anonymous donors, REPS has a $10,000 matching donation challenge to the public during the month of May, which is also national Mental Health Awareness Month.
“I think part of the reason the suicide numbers decreased so much this year so far is because of our confidential and complimentary counseling program that provides five free sessions of counseling,” Allsberry said.
REPS-funded counseling hit a peak of 37 sessions during the month of March alone, compared to 97 sessions throughout 2022.
“The winter was really long and hard for a lot of people,” Allsberry said. “It took a toll on our community and our seasonal employees. It’s a good problem to have because we want people to be reaching out for help. Finding the counselors to meet that need is challenging, but we are happy to do that to make sure that people are getting the help they need and not suffering in silence.”
REPS is kicking off another five-week run of fundraising bingo nights at Otto Pint on Yampa Street in Steamboat to support the counseling fund. The weekly fundraiser, starting at $5 for the first bingo card, takes place 6-9 p.m. on Thursdays from May 25 to June 22.
Allsberry said the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which started in July 2022, may also be helping to reduce suicide deaths.
“Even just the awareness aspect that the phone number has changed to be like 911, I think people know that help is available for them.”
REPS expanded its staffing levels to include a full-time communications coordinator plus five part-time staff that lead programs ranging from support groups to youth ambassadors. The Youth Ambassador Program, or YAP, is open to any middle or high school student interested in helping increase community awareness, build support and break stigmas.
Earlier this year, REPS split its support group into two more specific monthly groups. The Grief Support Group for people who lost loved ones to suicide meets the second Wednesday evening of each month, and the Coping and Healing Support Group for anyone who has attempted suicide or struggled with suicide ideation, as well as their friends and family members, meets the fourth Wednesday evening of the month.
More information is available via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, website Nwcosuicideprevention.com or phone or text 970-846-8182.
Also during Mental Health Awareness Month, Partners for Youth is hosting a free Youth Mental Health First Aid training from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday. The day is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers and caring citizens how to help an adolescent age 12 to 18 who is experiencing a crisis, mental health or addictions challenge. Registration is via email@example.com.
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